Cinemas across the UK will be recognising World Alzheimer’s Month this September with a series of dementia-friendly film events.
The BFI Film Audience Network and venue partners are making film accessible throughout September and beyond, for audiences living with dementia. Regular relaxed screenings, full of live entertainment, will offer safe and welcoming experiences.
The film screenings are developed by venues and supported by the eight BFI Film Audience Network (FAN) Hubs across the UK and National Lottery funding, who provide dementia-friendly guidance, training and support to cinema operators.
Hana Lewis, Strategic Manager of Film Hub Wales explains:
“We’ve been developing projects for audiences with dementia in the UK since the BFI Film Audience Network launched in 2013 and it really has the most extraordinary impact on both the team and the audiences. A new case of dementia is diagnosed somewhere in the world every four seconds. This is something we can’t ignore, particularly as 34% of the 850,000 people currently living with dementia in the UK don’t feel part of their community, 61% felt anxious or depressed recently and 40% felt lonely. (Data from Alzheimer’s Society). Film not only has the power to bring communities together but it is a powerful tool to improve mental wellbeing and confidence.
“We are really pleased to be working with a number of specialist partners in Wales during World Alzheimer’s Month who will enable us to significantly improve access to cinema provision for audiences living with dementia, including their families, friends and carers such as the Alzheimer’s Society and the Dementia Research Institute at Cardiff University, which is the largest of its kind in the UK. Our venue partners also have exceptional local knowledge and wonderful ideas from memory cafes to sing alongs and social gatherings, making the season ahead one not to miss”.
Film Hub Wales - currently the hub for the BFI Film Audience Network leading on the Access For All, Inclusive Cinema Strategy are developing a UK wide accessible screenings model and online resource which will enable exhibitors to build confidence when working with diverse groups, including audiences with dementia.
Ivor James lives in Cardiff and cares for his wife, Margaret, who is 78. She was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2010:
“We were students together at the Cardiff College of Arts and used to go to the cinema quite often. So it is marvellous that we are still able to share that experience. When she is at home watching TV, she tends to ask a lot of questions about what’s happening. But at the cinema she really focusses. We saw Calamity Jane and she could remember some of the numbers and was singing along to them.
“She loves musicals. The old classics help trigger her memory but she also likes action films. She really enjoys it and it is lovely to see her show some spark; an inkling of understanding.”
Over the last four years, Film Hub Wales has held multiple training events for exhibitors, including Opening Doors development days which piloted Dementia Friends sessions in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society.
To coincide with World Alzheimer’s Month, the BFI Film Audience Network is building upon existing skills by launching a Dementia Friendly Screenings Guide in collaboration with Alzheimer’s Society, and the UK Cinema Association. The guide will feature case studies from across the UK and equip cinemas with the tools to offer their own events for audiences living with dementia. The guide will receive its soft launch at the Prime Minister’s Champion Group for Culture in London in September before it’s official launch at a dedicated event in London in October. Industry visitors at Chapter’s World Alzheimer’s Day in Cardiff will also receive a preview copy.
Sue Phelps, Director of Alzheimer’s Society Cymru spells out why dementia friendly screenings are worthwhile :
“Dementia will affect everyone in every sector and every industry, from customers to employees. Creating a social space in cinemas where people living with dementia can enjoy a simple leisure activity with their friends, family and carers is so important, and helps to create a more inclusive society for all. Cinemas can make a huge difference to people living with dementia by making simple changes such as installing additional signage and by raising staff awareness. Allowing audiences to move around, chat and sing along if they want to, with an opportunity to socialise afterwards, creates a much more relaxed atmosphere.”
A major part of the success of dementia friendly cinema is around the extra activities provided, whether that’s just tea and cake or a workshop as part of the package. These social elements really add value to the visitor’s experience and can be a nice opportunity for carers and families to connect too.
Joann Rae at Theatr Colwyn explains:
“More than 160 people turned up for our first dementia friendly screening – we were thrilled! The audience members were really engaged with the film, they sang all the way through it and loved the interval entertainment. Since then, our screenings have retained a loyal audience and we're looking forward to screening 'Meet Me in St Louis' during World Alzheimer's Month. You can really see the effect these screenings have on our staff and volunteers, as well as the audience. Everyone comes together for the interval sing-alongs, brilliantly led by Welsh National Opera’s producer Ruth Evans and the dementia friendly film screenings have proved to be really joyful afternoons.”
Professor Julie Williams, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Welsh Government and Professor of Neuropsychological Genetics explains:
“It is estimated that the number of people with dementia will double by 2030. In order to find new ways to diagnose, treat, prevent and care for people living with the condition, Cardiff University recently launched a more than £20m dementia research centre with the support of the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK, playing a major role in the UK’s biggest dementia research initiative and putting Wales at the forefront of dementia research.
“Evidence has shown that engagement with the arts, including cinema can enhance mood, increase confidence and connect people with dementia. This is why the upcoming programme of film events is so important. We are very pleased to offer a chance for audiences to experience our unique virtual reality at Chapter during the season, which was developed by Alzheimer’s Research UK and designed to put you in the shoes of someone living with dementia.”